Although many of us recognize the importance of making small changes at work to contribute to sustainability, we sometimes overlook the potential value in sustainability to create new core products or processes at our companies. Moreover, we often lack the skills to transform these individual actions into a corporate-wide sustainability culture. As a result, companies can miss out on areas of value-creation and valuable sources of innovation. So how can we capture this innovation? How can we catalyze the shift from the personal passion to sustainability strategy? Answer: become Sustainability Ambassadors – individuals who are change-makers, rule-breakers, and innovators. Individuals who not merely have the passion, but the knowledge and tools to create collective corporate change.
That was the objective at this month’s Beyond Business as Usual forum, hosted at nakedHub, a new Shanghai co-working space. Over 50 young professionals gathered to find out how they could transform personal interests into the skills required to become future Sustainability Ambassadors. The event invited two influential leaders in corporate social responsibility who engaged attendees through lessons, case studies and personal stories.
Dr. Lu Jianzhong, Partner of Brunswick Group, spoke of the many challenges the CSR role faces. He said it is often a balancing act, working on the priorities of many functional areas while accomplishing your own. However, he argued the more you understand a company’s purpose, the more you can communicate your unique insights in a language that resonates with it. Dr. Lu provided a toolkit and self-development tips to become a successful Sustainability Ambassador, including the need for strong commercial sense, collaboration skills, and of course, passion.
Sharon Xiao, Sustainability Manager of UPM, shared her personal journey from forester to Sustainability Manager. She also discussed the transitions organizations make from initial sustainability concepts of risk management and compliance to the level where sustainability becomes central to stakeholder relations and business development. It takes much time, perseverance and collaboration with the entire value chain, but it a vital aspect of creating impact. Sharon has 9 years of sustainability experience both in corporate and NGO spheres. She has developed cross-functional skills in communicating sustainability, helping her employers improve sustainability performance, brand influence, public relations, and operations.
Here we highlight the 5 keys takeaways and areas of focus to becoming an effective sustainability ambassador.
1. Get to know your company’s existing purpose and culture
While you may want to start implementing sustainability initiatives right away, you must first understand what is relevant to the business stream or sector, what fits into the company’s strategies and what can leverage existing core competencies of the firm. Sustainability initiatives won’t go far if they’re not relevant or achievable.
2. Build a coalition of internal and external support
Form relationships with external stakeholders such as communities, NGOs, customers and investors and internal departments and individuals to identify their concerns and priorities. Team up with those who align with your sustainability vision to bolster your proposals and projects.
3. Develop stories and business cases to sell your ideas
Your initiatives will go nowhere if you can’t communicate them properly. And the way in which you convey your ideas means the difference between being approved and being laughed at. Corporate change makers often use story-telling and build narratives, presenting profiles and photos of new potential consumer markets or products. However, you must also develop a convincing business case. Having strong commercial sense, delivering quantifiable metrics and facts is also important. Bringing a compelling narrative and business case to the table will improve your chances of success.
4. Maintain your integrity but be patient
As a sustainability ambassador, it is important to stick to your guns. Focus on the ultimate goal of creating real impact and don’t let your ambitious initiatives be diluted to incremental action. Your role is not to become a greenwashing department. With this said, have patience. Change is difficult for many organizations and the people that operate them. Take concerns and suggestions into consideration and be flexible with how you reach success – the journey usually never follows a straight path.
5. Recognize and celebrate success together
Ensure that the sustainability performance of the company does not go unrecognized. Use the power of your marketing and public relations departments as well as external certifications and reporting systems to communicate your impact with the world. As important as this is, do not forget to celebrate your personal achievements and those of sustainability ambassador team you’ve formed. Share the other metrics, but also ensure that you enjoy what you’re doing. Long-term sustainability success endures so long as you have the passion for it.
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